The art of good health

(image © David Shrigley)

Art helps us access and express parts of ourselves that are often unavailable to other forms of human interaction. It flies below the radar, delivering nourishment for our soul and returning with stories from the unconscious […] Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane.
Grayson Perry

While a large proportion of my physical and mental health is sustained through time spent running, swimming, practicing yoga and going to the gym, there is another element of my general wellbeing that is nourished through the arts. Whether it is in the hours spent wandering around an art gallery or lost in a book, at a life drawing class or choir practice, the moments when I engage with the art world bring me a sense of total peace, joy, presence and fulfilment.

Over the past year I have found myself thinking more and more about the positive role that the arts can play in our mental and physical health. To this end, last summer I set up a life drawing course at work. With funding support from our staff Wellbeing Committee, the group was established with the primary goal of taking colleagues away from their desks and into a creative space where they could engage in the moment through a practice distinct in pace and style from their everyday job. In these classes the process of drawing – being creative and present, looking, seeing and recreating shapes and forms – served as a meditative and mindful process, with the success of the class being measured as much by the feelings and reflections of the participants, as by the results of charcoal on paper.

This class is, of course, only a tiny fraction of a much wider and ever-growing movement from within the the arts and cultural heritage sector to consider the role that the sector can play within the field of health and wellbeing.

the arts can reconstruct you
© David Shrigley

In 2014 an All Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing was launched to discuss developments and policy in the field of arts and health. Two years later, the group published an almost 200 page report entitled Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing in which they assert that:

More and more people now appreciate that arts and culture can play a valuable part in helping tackle some of the most challenging social and health conditions. Active participation in the visual and performing arts, music and dance can help people facing a lonely old age, depression, or mental illness; it can maintain levels of independence and curiosity and […] it can bring great joy and so improve the quality of life for those engaged.

This paper offers a formal acknowledgement of a shift within the sector surrounding the question of who arts and heritage spaces are for and how they can serve audiences beyond the traditional academic and curatorial visitors. Within the gallery world there are signs that institutions are increasingly keen to schedule health and wellbeing initiatives into their programming. Manchester Art Gallery, for example, have a whole of section of their programme dedicated to wellness, with events to encourage visitors to engage with arts mindfully and wellbeing tours of their galleries.

These, and other initiatives hosted within both arts, care and clinical settings, are designed to be expressive, restorative, educational and therapeutic, working preventively, to enhance recovery, or to improve the quality of life for people with long-term or terminal conditions. Here the arts can play an important role in giving patients a greater sense of self; as Eva Okwonga notes in Creative Health:

Artistic self expression gives participants an identity beyond illness.

Programming around dementia is also increasing, as Nicci Gerrard highlighted in her Guardian article last year, pointing to projects including the Wellcome Foundation’s Dementia Research projectManchester Camerata’s Music in Mind, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Music for a While and the Alzheimer’s Society’s Singing for the Brain. As Gerrard observes:

Dementia is an area where the arts can radically enhance quality of life by finding a common language and by focusing on everyday, in-the-moment creativity.

This is a sentiment shared by Lord Howarth of Newport, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group, who stated that:

The arts have a vital role to play for people with dementia. Research demonstrates that visual arts, music, dance, digital creativity and other cultural activities can help to delay the onset of dementia and diminish its severity.

the arts can help you see
© David Shrigley

Meanwhile, organisations such as the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing and London Arts in Health Forum, have been brought to the fore in recent years, at their hearts the belief that:

By supplementing medicine and care, the arts can improve the health of people who experience mental or physical health problems. Engaging in the arts can promote prevention of disease and build wellbeing.

Working in the arts and cultural heritage sector myself, with a passion for art and an interest in health and wellness, this movement fills me with so much hope and excitement. The growing possibility that through the arts – be they visual, practical, musical, theatrical or literary – we can work together to promote health, happiness and wellbeing and that we can help people through times of distress, illness and trauma, has to be a positive thing.

I want to finish with this quote from Nicci Gerrard:

Art can be medicine, for body and soul.



Why ‘me time’ matters

Try to do one thing each day that nourishes you.

This was the takeaway message from a yoga event I attended this week at the Shard in London. The event, sponsored by California Walnuts, saw me and my good friend Sophie getting up at 5:30am to join a group of yogis for a 7am yoga session with Mandy Jhamat from Yogasphere, a wellness talk by Julie Montagu and delicious breakfast, hosted high above the city on the 69th floor of the Shard. It was the perfect start to the day: a relaxing vinyasa flow class suspended above the hubbub of the city below, followed by a feast of smoothies, mini pots of overnight oats, fruit kebabs and vegan flapjacks, all enjoyed from a room with a spectacular view.

Image with thanks to California Walnuts

The event finished at 9:30am and we left with a free yoga mat, a bag full of goodies (including a big jar of delicious California Walnuts!) and that warm fuzzy feeling that I can only describe as the post-yoga glow.

While I’ll admit that I found myself reaching for the coffee by 3pm (I’m a morning person but even I concede that 5:30am is that bit too early) the feel-good factor from going to the class and spending some time with Sophie stayed with me until bedtime.

Image with thanks to California Walnuts

While this was an exceptional day, the message from the speaker, Julie Montagu, was that you don’t need a special event to feed your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Instead, we should find a little space every day for those acts that make us feel more like ourselves and contribute to our overall sense of wellness. Whether it be a 15 minute yoga practice, a short walk or lunchtime run, curling up with a good book, wandering around an art gallery, taking a hot bath, going for a cup of tea with a friend, calling your mum, listening to a podcast or baking a cake, it’s amazing how just a little act can quickly change your mood and the course of your day.

While (as regular readers may have gathered!) I find my greatest sense of self through exercise, another very different area in which I have found nourishment is while drawing. It’s amazing how taking the time to really look at figures and forms and then attempt to replicate them in graphite on paper, can be so meditative. To this end, a friend and I recently established a life drawing class as part of a wellness initiative. It is amazing how quickly the two hours of the class pass as we work on a series of 5, 10, 15 and 20 minute poses, working in silence, looking, sketching and being present in the moment. While I’m not the greatest artist, I’ve learnt to use the lessons from my yoga practice of leaving my ego at the door, focusing on my easel and working within my own parameters. When I began drawing I found the process more frustrating than therapeutic, but now I have evolved my practice, making it a much calmer space for engagement and self development.

Image with thanks to California Walnuts

It is so easy to forget to spend that little bit of time feeding your mind, body and soul and to find that you’ve spent a day racing around with little to show for it. I’m now taking the message of this week’s yoga event and aiming to dedicate a portion of each day to self-nourishing acts as I know that by feeding my own soul I feel stronger, richer, fuller and more able to give back to those around me.


Tuscan adventures and new beginnings

I realise that it has been quite a while since my last post, for which I have the (fairly reasonable?) excuse of a wedding and honeymoon. Twelve months almost to the day that we got engaged, R and I tied the knot in Tuscany last month, surrounded by our closest friends and family, on what was genuinely the happiest and most fantastically fun day of my life.

img_6216From swimming laps with my bridesmaids before breakfast and racing across the pool on inflatable pizza slices with my pals (I had to burn off the nervous energy somehow!), to exchanging our vows in a beautiful hill-top town hall and dancing the night away in a Tuscan castle, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day.


I can’t tell you how grateful we both felt to have so many of our wonderful friends and family members fly out to Italy to share the day with us. While I have always acknowledged how amazing the people in our lives are, having them all there together – and seeing new friendships form between our respective friends and relatives – filled me with so much happiness and gratitude; I really do feel so amazingly privileged that we are able to share our lives with such incredible people.


After the wedding – and following a few days de-compressing with our families – R and I spent two weeks travelling around Italy. It’s amazing how taking a step out of your everyday routine really shifts your perception and allows you the time and headspace to reflect on where you are in your life, and to appreciate all that you have. It was so wonderful taking time to talk about everything and nothing – discussing our life plans, politics, art, our future together and our career goals – rather than simply worrying about what meetings or deadlines we had coming up at work or who was cooking dinner that evening (the usual topics of conversation in our everyday lives!).

Our lifestyle took on a whole different pattern too: we were getting plenty of sleep, spending all of our waking hours outside, walking, cycling and swimming – in the sea, in pools and in lakes – dining out on good food and eating when we were hungry, rather than when we were bored or tired. We read book after book, appreciated amazing art works  and architecture and took the time to pause and notice the little things in the world around us.


And after what felt like a terribly indulgent couple of weeks I returned to the UK feeling healthier and better than I have done for a long while.

As you can imagine, coming back to London has been quite the fall back to earth, and despite an active holiday, rising early for my pre-work yoga and getting back into my running routine has taken a bit of a push. No matter how much you love it, London life is not serene by any stretch of the imagination and it is amazing how exhausting just commuting while surrounded by hundreds of people can be!

While we are falling back into many elements of our pre-wedding day-to-day routine, there are some habits from the holiday that I’m trying to maintain and some feelings that were stirred up from the trip that I don’t want to let go.

Post-wedding I’m taking the time to pay attention to the little things in the world around me – the way the light passes through the clouds, the autumnal freshness to the air, the changing colour of the leaves, the shapes and colours of the city, the little alleyways and interesting architectural features high-up on buildings that are so easily missed.


I’ve continued to read fervently, burying my head in a book on my commute and in little cafes during those lunch breaks when I don’t go running.

Having allowed myself to eat freely and mindfully during the honeymoon – enjoying good and nutritious food, including a lot of bread and pasta (something I would have considered sacrilege pre-wedding!) and resultantly eating to satiety rather than over-eating – I’ve adjusted my eating habits since I’ve returned home. I’ve taken to eating slightly more at breakfast, as we did on our honeymoon, and to keeping an afternoon snack on hand to stop me from getting over-hungry come 7pm and devouring too much at dinner.

Finally having had the time for my mind to wander and whirr, to be filled with history and art, political ideas and literature, I’m looking at opportunities for further study. Be it via an ever increasing reading list that I’m creating for myself, evenings in the British Library or lengthy conversations with my academic friends, I’m starting, once again, to feed that little intellectual sprite that sits on my shoulder and makes noises about a PhD.


So as one chapter of my life has come to an end, and as I ride out the inevitable dip that comes post-wedding-and-wonderful-honeymoon, a whole new and exciting chapter is beginning, and I’m embarking on it as a Mrs with the best man in the world at my side.

More soon.


The myth of hard work (and the secret of an extraordinary life)

I recently found myself in circumstances that required me to reflect on the way I work, my career goals and my outlook and approach to my professional life. I’ve always been a pretty self-aware and reflective person (sometimes to a fault), but this process really got me thinking not only about how I work now, but also how this will translate into my working life in the future.

It was with this degree of self reflection at the forefront of my mind that I listened to, and was totally inspired by, an interview with Stever Robbins on the Ben Greenfield Podcast last week.

Lecturer and life coach, Robbins is also an entrepreneur, business consultant, host of ‘The Get It Done Guy’ podcast, author of ‘The Get it Done Guy’s Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More’ and, most recently, writer on ‘Work Less and Do More: The Zombie Musical’.

The message he preaches is that ‘the journey is the reward‘; that ultimately, reaching your goals shouldn’t be the sole focus of your attentions but rather, you should embrace the experiences that come on the path towards that goal. Whether it’s training for a race, gaining skills and experiences at work, learning at college, practising an instrument, or whatever your objective may be, your focus shouldn’t just be centred on the final, fleeting moment of completion – crossing a finishing line, getting a promotion etc. While there is of course some pleasure in these things, so much more pleasure can be derived if you also place stock in all of the little steps surmounted, moments experienced, skills acquired, people met and memories made along the way.

In looking at his own life, Robbins asked himself, did you make the most of your one life and did you make it extraordinary (whatever it is that ‘extraordinary’ means to you)?

To answer this he sat down with a piece of paper, which he split into 3 columns, and in the first he wrote all of those things that impacted on him positively, that nurtured him and that he regarded as in some way extraordinary. In the second he wrote all of those things that he regarded to be neutral in his life, and in the third he wrote down those things that actively drained his life energy.

I would urge you to do the same, even if just as a mental tally. Go through your daily or weekly calendar and divide up your activities into these three columns and look at what percentage of your activities fall into each column.

Robbins asks us to question what the things are that we regard extraordinary? What compels you to enough to move to action? What are the things that give you real joy? And how can you make these things workable for you?

He suggests letting your emotions guide you towards what you want to do and then setting your brain on figuring out what it is about that thing that inspires you and how you can get into it in some way.

Robbins also talks about four myths that get in the way of leading an extraordinary life. These may seem like heresy to traditional motivational speakers, but they are really worth considering:

1. The myth of hard work

First is the myth of hard work. Robbins observes that often when you are struggling to achieve a goal the commonly given advice is to just ‘work harder’. However, the problem is that while we always tell ourselves and each other this, no one has ever really stopped to ask what this really means: what is hard work?

It seems that for the vast majority of people the definition of hard work is ‘something that I’m not very good at, don’t enjoy and that I work long hours at’. If this is how the majority of us conceive of hard work it would seem that the advice we are giving each other when we say ‘you just need to work harder’, is ‘maybe you need to do a few more hours of things you’re not very good and you really don’t enjoy, and then you’ll have the life you want.’

To Robbins this demonstrates a serious mis-calibration around what hard work means and what it can achieve.

Consider this: there are people who work for a lot of hours on things that they enjoy, with successful results, and don’t think about it as hard work. They may think about it as energising or challenging or maybe as a lot of effort, but not hard work.

Robbins tells us to consider also that there are an awful lot of people who are very rich, living the life they want through chance, circumstance or privilege, but who don’t work particularly hard by anyone’s definition of hard work.

And there are even more people who work really hard everyday and never achieve the life they want.

Thus while there is some relationship between hard work and the life you are living, and while there is definitely a correlation between laziness and not getting what you want – while hard work is no guarantee of success laziness is definitely a guarantee that you won’t end up with an extraordinary life – Robbins wants to stress that the hard work part is not the thing to obsess about.

This all made me think about my own job and really made me realise that while I put in a lot of effort – while I’m challenged in some regard everyday – my job is not ‘hard work’ by Robbins’ definition. Rather, it is something that I love and that enriches and nourishes me. My colleagues are interesting and supportive, my work is varied and each week I learn something new. My work environment is pleasant and my boss encourages me to try new things and take on new challenges. Yes there are days when I find myself pulling my hair out about one thing or other, or when it feels like I have a billion and one things to do, and I will certainly never be rich no matter how much effort I put in, but each week I feel that I’ve contributed something and taken something from my working week and I appreciate how lucky I am in that regard.

The conclusion I draw from this is that we don’t have to be slogging away for hours at something we hate to achieve our goals and people’s competitive tendency to brag about how hard they are working, or to spend hours upon end in the office is no indicator of how successful their lives actually are, or how productive their working time really is.

2. The myth of life goals

Myth number two relates to life goals and the fallacy that you are in a place to decide at the age of 16, 18 or 25 what you want to do with the rest of your life.

There are a number of reasons why these longer term goals aren’t great. While shorter term goals can be very motivating and can help you set direction, in terms of shaping the arc of your life, people are very bad at predicting what’s going to satisfy them, make them happy and what it is they are going to want ten or fifteen years in the future. It is hard to know how your priorities will change as you get older and what a 20-year-old thinks is a good ten year goal is unlikely to be a place where a 30-year-old wants to be.

Instead of committing yourself to a singular course, Robbins suggests that you should try to notice what draws you and get skilled and experienced in that area. Start to get known and meet people. Create open networks of people who you like and respect and who like and respect you. It’s not about networking in a traditional, targeted sense, but rather, building a web of contacts, a net of many different types of thread, as you never know which threads will eventually prove to be the ones you rely on.

3. The myth of life plans

While you can have a general sense of where you are going, Robbins suggests that rather than following a strict plan you should see life as a series of moving targets. Your role is to continually move between these targets, learning and immersing yourself in the things you are passionate about while staying open to all of the other targets that move through your life.

He cautions that just because you’ve made a ten year plan, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that plan will take you to where you want to/expect to be. Often our ideas about the way that the world and career paths work has no baring on reality and we often lack the experience to make adequate plans to get us to the places we want the be. The problem is that if your plan is fundamentally flawed it doesn’t matter how closely you follow it, if it’s not a real path to where you want to get to, you’ll not succeed in your goal.

Instead you need to think how can you put yourself into an environment that is rich with a variety of opportunities? How do you recognise an opportunity from an attractive diversion? And how do you ultimately ensure that you benefit from that opportunity?

4. The myth of deferred gratification

The final myth is that of deferred gratification. A lot of people choose their career path on the logic of getting rich now and doing what I really want to do later, but the risk here is that you become all deferred and no gratification.

Robbins notes that you need to learn to strike a good balance between what you are going to defer and what you are going to insist on now. And remember: if you always wait you never build a foundation on which to structure your future plan. The earlier you start the earlier you develop a base of skills, contacts and experiences, rather than coming in ten years later and competing against people ten years younger than you with ten years more experience.

I hope that this has all provided some food for thought; it certainly got me thinking about my approach to work, how positive so many elements of my life are and how lucky I am to be in an industry that cultivates collaboration and creativity over competitiveness and conflict.

Buying your way to happiness?

Blogging with Rubens
Blogging with Rubens

Apologies for the silence of late. This is certainly not on account of having nothing to write about – far from it, since I seem to be stockpiling articles that I’ve earmarked for review – but rather due to the distractions offered by plentiful amounts of running (with the start of the cross country season), reading (since my holiday I’ve got back into the habit of consuming books much in the way that I consume cups of tea), and the return of my kitty Rubens.

However, an article I tore out of The Guardian a week or so ago has been sitting on my kitchen table, looking at me rather expectantly for a while now, and since the corners are starting to look rather worn and it’s had more than a spot of tea spilt on it, with Rubens on my knee I’ve resolved to get writing again.

The article, by Oliver Burkeman, looks at the so-called ‘Diderot effect’. Originating from Diderot’s 1769 essay ‘Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown’ (with the rather telling subtitle ‘or A warning to those who have more taste than fortune’), this describes the phenomenon whereby you buy something new and then this new item makes your other possessions look time-worn by comparison. The result is that you end up feeling the need to replace everything else surrounding that new object, whether you have the financial means to do so or not (something which I find myself guilty of a lot of the time).

Diderot’s essay (which you can read in full here), centres on his new, luxurious robe, which sits at odds with all of his other belongings:

‘My old robe was one with the other rags that surrounded me. A straw chair, a wooden table, a rug from Bergamo, a wood plank that held up a few books, a few smoky prints without frames, hung by its corners on that tapestry. Between these prints three or four suspended plasters formed, along with my old robe, the most harmonious indigence.

All is now discordant. No more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty.’

It is this dis-harmony between the new and old objects that is problematic for Diderot; an inconsistency of ones possessions, which causes mixed messages about their owner.

As Burkeman observes:

‘We use possessions to help construct our identities and we need these identities to be consistent. A consistently shabbily dressed person might be signalling that her mind is on higher matters; a consistently smart one that she values good taste. But someone who’s a random mixture of both just seems weird.’

Anthropologist Grant McCracken notes that this consistency is so subconsciously important to us that products are marketed as ‘Diderot unities’ – groups whereby once you’ve purchased one you feel that you need the others.

The Diderot effect works because we invest possessions with symbolic power – we want possessions that say something about the person we are or at least about the person we want to be. And once we have one item in the ‘set’ of that aspired to person, we want the rest. You know the juicer and the Lululemon leggings you needed to buy not long after you bought that new yoga mat? Or the running spikes and gel belt that you had to have just after you bought that new wind-proof top? That is what we are talking about here.

The economist Juliet Schor sums this up quite perfectly:

 ‘If there’s something you really want but don’t actually need, there’s a good chance that a recurring symbolic fantasy is attached to it. A faster computer? The dream of getting more work done. A remodelled kitchen? The hope of eating proper family dinners…Laying bare the fantasy illuminates the often tenuous link between the product and the dream.’

As anyone who knows me will attest, I often get lost in the idea, or dream, of a lifestyle or event, triggered by the smallest of things from a new water bottle to a pair of climbing boots. My mind creates the lifestyle surrounding each object and to solidify the vision I find myself buying all of the tropes associated with that aspiration.

Burkemen started his article with the note that ‘sometimes it’s nice to learn that a psychological phenomenon has a name, if only so I no longer have to think of it as Me Being Uniquely Irrational And Self Defeating’ and I will finish mine by saying much the same, but acknowledging that maybe I should try to hold back from buying the vision and instead try to live it.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, but don’t miss out on it either

AnxietyIt is all too easy find yourself caught up in a whole host of trivial worries and irritations, or preoccupied with concerns that are outside of your control. Whether it’s feeling rubbish on a run, grumpy having been caught in an over-full train carriage on your commute, stressed or overwhelmed by a hectic work schedule, rotten after a bad night’s sleep, or worried about a hospital appointment, we’ve all found ourselves, at one point or another lost in negative thoughts. And sometimes, when you’re stuck in a cycle of stress, negativity and anxiety, it’s really easy to lose perspective and to miss all of the amazing small things that counteract the bad.

So this post is a celebration of some of my favourite little things; those things that have really struck a chord over the past couple of weeks and that make up for even the most miserable of days.

1. Bank Holidays

I tend not to lie-in on weekends as I’m reluctant to lose the limited free time I have. Bank Holiday weekends, however, offer the luxury of an extra day off, meaning that a little lie in on a Sunday can be counteracted by an active Monday. May has been replete with long weekends, great for catching up on those zzzz!

2. Exercise before work

Whether it’s half an hour of yoga on the living room floor, a quick run before work, or a swim with colleagues en route to the office, getting in some exercise before breakfast sets me up for the day and I find that I am healthier and more mindful for the rest of the day as a result.

3. Brunch after a run

Post-run brunch of spelt crackers with avo and tomato
Post-run brunch of spelt crackers with avo and tomato

I love to break from the weekday protein shake and indulge in my weekend breakfasts, all the more well-deserved and enjoyed after a long Sunday run! Whether it’s a bowl of muesli with nuts, seeds and blueberries topped with soya yogurt, a cinnamon and raisin bagel with oodles of peanut butter, or rye bread toast with crushed avocado, chilli salt and tomatoes, brunch with R, while reading the paper and drinking lots of tea, is my absolute favourite thing.

This weekend we had two lovely long brunches, bliss!

4. Weekday lunches with my pal Katie

Sneaky Itsu lunch date with Katie
Sneaky Itsu lunch date with Katie

No matter how busy I am at work, how grumpy, over-tired or stressed I am, meeting my pal Katie for a tea and Itsu sorts me right out!

No one makes me laugh like Katie and no one knows me as well. We talk at a million miles an hour, smile until our cheeks hurt and I always go back to the office better for a lunch break with her.

5. PBs

Since I gave up competitive swimming I’ve not thought an awful lot about PBs. I’m not the fastest runner so I’ve not tended to obsess about times so much, that is, until now.

Doing Park Run is proving a good way of working on running shorter distances and seeing tangible progress in my times. Over four park runs I’ve knocked about a minute and a half off my time and I’m pushing now to go faster. It’s an interesting learning curve discovering how to pace myself and I’m still learning how fast I can go.

6. Evenings with friends

Lou's birthday picnic
Lou’s birthday picnic

Nothing beats a night of good company, interesting conversation, delicious food and plenty of wine. I love hearing all of the exciting things my friends have been up to, and now with R’s friends to spend time with too, I’m surrounded by a wealth of fascinating and fun people. While nights out dancing are fun, I’d much rather spend time chatting with our pals over a glass of wine.

This last couple of weeks has been filled with lovely dinner parties and long lunches with friends and colleagues and I’m so grateful for all of the amazing people I’m lucky enough to have in my life.

7. Warm, light evenings

Walled Garden, Hampstead Heath
Walled Garden, Hampstead Heath

There is nothing nicer than finishing work in the light and then being able to go for a run, sit in the park, or go on a stroll in a light jacket and not feel cold.

This week we had our first picnic in the park of the season to celebrate my fellow runner, Louise’s birthday, which was heaven!

On Tuesday my run with the Mornington Chasers over Hampstead Heath and through the Hill Garden, only open in the summer months, was total bliss!

Fat versus Thin or Form versus Function?

I love my body.

There’s a sentence you rarely hear.

And this is something that’s been playing on my mind, particularly following on from the recent backlash, featured in various news articles and on social media this week, against the latest Protein World adverts.

Protein worldIn case you haven’t seen them, the ads show a woman, with the most incredible physique, in a skimpy yellow bikini, accompanied by the slogan ‘are you beach body ready?’

In defence of the advert, the woman isn’t super skinny – she is shapely and toned with muscle definition – and, as a spokesperson for Protein World pointed out (although perhaps not in the most sensitive or diplomatic way), this company aren’t alone in adhering to the ‘beach ready’ trope.

Indeed, this is a slogan that is churned out on an annual basis, alongside a flurry of articles on diet and exercise, that remind us that the comfort eating of the winter months is about to come back to bite us (just Google ‘get a beach body’ and you’ll see what I mean).

But, as my mum always said to me: just because everyone else is doing something, it doesn’t necessarily make it right.

Whatever you think of the adverts, (and they are certainly sparking off lots of opinions), the fact that people are publicaly standing up for their bodies (whatever shape or size) has to be a positive thing.

In the UK at least, we are conditioned to be as self-deprecating as humanly possible. Try to give an Englishman a compliment and you will be met by a barrage of objections, excuses and awkwardness. Tell someone you like their outfit and you’ll hear how they got it in a sale, or have had it forever, or that they aren’t really all that sure about it anyway.

beach doveAnd the same goes for our bodies. We are taught to critique and pick ourselves apart piece by piece. Heaven forbid that anyone might declare that they are actually quite comfortable in their own skin – whether they have sculpted six-pack abs or not – and wait for the gasps of disbelief. Suggest that you actually like the way you look and you become a social pariah.

We grow up hearing everyone listing their flaws and, in turn, see those flaws in ourselves. And I admit to being party to this. I’ve spent years pulling apart my appearance, feeling negatively about my body, picking up on every lump, bump and blemish, hating myself and then feeling guilty for being so shallow and ungrateful as to hate myself.

Even this week when I’ve been reflecting on what incredible things my body can achieve, how lucky I am that I have fully functioning limbs and that my vital organs are still all working at least, I still found myself, in a moment of weakness trapped beneath the neon lights of the gym, resenting every curve and squishy bit as they were reflected back at me in mirrors on every angle. Then I got myself back in check and chastised myself for being so ridiculous.

beach_body_ready_3282046bI admire those women who are able to confidently stand up for their own bodies and who feel comfortable enough in their own skin to strip down to their bikinis and stand on the tube platforms in protest (or even those who are confident enough to strip down for a giant poster).

Because it shouldn’t be about form but function. We should be proud of our bodies and what they can do. This shouldn’t be a question of fat versus thin, as the Protein World debate has become, but one of form versus function.

We should look after ourselves, eating the correct things, doing functional exercises – running, walking, climbing, swimming – stretching after days spent sat at desks, doing body weight exercises to keep our bones strong, to make sure our bodies can fulfil their full potentials.

So as the protesters declare, we should be making sure #eachbodyisready, but not just for the beach but for everything that life throws at it – be it marathon, childbirth, illness, injury and everything in between. And whether you do that in a skimpy yellow bikini or not is up to you.